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The Rise and Return of Nightwish (Blue Wings/2002)

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Another blast from the past! Nightwish was featured in Finnair's Blue Wings magazine in 2002.
Scans on Facebook, translation below:


Nightwish’s Metallic Daydreams

Blending operatic vocals, synthesizer, flute, choir, strings, and spoken word, heavy metal band Nightwish has shot from small-town Finnish Karelia to global success. Now the group faces some tantalising decisions.

“We've got this huge, bombastic, almost corny sound," says Tuomas Holopainen, founder, songwriter, and keyboardist of Finnish metal band Nightwish. Corny it may be, but that sound — call it Kate Bush-meets-Deep Purple — has made them one of the most successful Finnish rock bands ever, second only to European stars HIM.
At the heart of the sound are two young classically trained musicians with huge potential: lead vocalist Tarja Turunen, 25, and multi-instrumentalist Holopainen, who turns 26 on Christmas Day.
Six years ago on that holiday, their lives fatefully linked in their small hometown of Kitee, near the Russian border.
"I knocked on Tarja's door, handed her a demo tape and asked her to get in touch if she was interested," says Holopainen.
"She said 'yes' almost right away. We'd known each other since we were 13. Tarja's always been like a sister to me and the other guys in the band," adds Holopainen, quashing any suspicions of intra-band romance.
Holopainen's keyboards and Turunen's vocals are unusual in metal. Backed by a more familiar guitar-bass-drum trio, they've created an unmistakable sound.
Live or in the studio, the sound of Nightwish in high gear is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. A sound this massive and piercing leaves no middle ground —and sends some listeners rushing to switch radio stations. For hundreds of thousands around the world, though, it inspires near-worship.

From Santiago to Seoul

That sound conjures up images from the blockbuster movie Titanic: a gigantic metal machine ploughing through a stormy night world of tragedy, while a female figure spreads her arms at the bowsprit, soaring above it all.
The night is the black world portrayed in Holopainen's lyrics, the hull and engine are the band's guitars and rhythm section, and the female figurehead is of course Turunen.
Like Titanic, Nightwish is at heart a spectacle for the young masses. And it has found its masses: from Japan to Russia and Latin America, where the band's hotel was often besieged by passionate young fans. In Brazil, where the band has toured twice, there's a cover band that plays only Nightwish songs.
The band's fourth and biggest-selling album, Century Child, also brings Titanic to mind with the power ballad “Forever Yours." One of Nightwish's biggest hits, it echoes Celine Dion's theme from the movie, with swelling strings and haunting tin whistle.
"Forever Yours" showcases the progress Holopainen and Turunen have made since Nightwish's fumbling 1997 debut. He has become an assured composer and a better lyricist. Meanwhile her seven years of classical training are evident in her new-found sensitivity.
Turunen began with liturgical music at Helsinki's Sibelius Academy. For more than a year now, she's been studying chamber music at the University of Music Karlsruhe in southern Germany, near the French border.
"I enjoy singing a lot more now than I did six years ago," she says. "The colours and range of my voice have been increasing, which makes it more fun to sing. And the training with Nightwish has made me and my voice stronger. I've been lucky enough to enter the worlds of both of both rock and classical.” Those worlds collided when Turunen attended the Sibelius Academy. The constant band activities and her sudden celebrity-status — her image was splashed across every bus shelter — were a serious distraction from her studies. So in September 2001 she moved to Germany, throwing the band's future into doubt.
Since then Turunen and Holopainen say that she has found a balance between her contrasting worlds — at least for now. This year, she took time off to record Century Child and complete an around-the-world tour, which took the band to 16 countries.
For now, the band's future plans are on hold for at least a year, with the exception of two German dates in January and a few festivals next summer.
"The rumour that Tarja is leaving the band has been blown out of proportion," says Holopainen. "She's not leaving, she's just taking a break to concentrate on her studies. She's more motivated than ever."

Catching the Third Wave

The author of a new book on Finnish metal, Jone Nikula, sees trouble down the road for Nightwish.
"The question of Tarja leaving will come up as she has operatic ambitions," he says. "Nightwish is Holopainen's band, he's the musical genius behind it. But it's hard to imagine anyone else filling Tarja's PVC outfits!"
Nikula, rock radio impresario and manager of glam rock legend Hanoi Rocks, has just published a history of Finnish metal titled Iron Age ("Rauta-aika").
"Nightwish represents the third wave of modern Finnish metal, along with HIM, and Children of Bodom," he says.
"They've all had an international approach from day one. When they came up, the infrastructure they needed was already in place, all the managers, promoters, labels, and so on.
"Nightwish isn't easy to categorise, though. They're definitely old-school European metal. But the instrumentation is more innovative, and Tarja gives it flavour. I'd describe them as melodic heavy metal with a strong Teutonic influence."
Holopainen calls their latest album "Wagnerian." And the Germans seem to agree. Europe's biggest music market snapped up over 15,000 copies of the band's Sleeping Sun EP within a month.
Bulwarked by this German popularity, their breakthrough album Wishmaster sold 170,000 copies. And in less than half a year, Century Child has shifted 300,000 units — pushing the band's sales well past the half-million mark.

Dungeons and Dragons

Still, success in the English-speaking world has eluded them, as it has every other Finnish rock band. Listeners find unintentional humour in some of Nightwish's lyrics and pronunciation, especially their earliest efforts.
Turunen, too, has had trouble with some of Holopainen's lyrics, which are spiced with eroticism, Biblical references, and sword-and-sorcery fantasy. "On the older albums, some of the words were very naive and funny, descriptions of nature and the deeper emotions of a young man who hadn't yet experienced much in life yet," she says.
"Still, Tuomas has always been very honest with his music and with his words. And with each album he's making progress in expressing himself. The covers and lyrics are full of fantasy, but the music is very emotional. There's mystery and magic in Nightwish's music."
For Holopainen, it was natural to write in English. "Somehow it doesn't sound as corny as when I write in Finnish — at least to me!" he says, laughing.
Still, that word comes to mind when listening to some of the lyrics, which are a Tolkienesque blend of heroism and heartache. Ditto for the twee New Agey album cover artwork, an irony-free zone peopled with warriors and wizards, seductresses, and swans.
"There's always been an element of schoolboy humour in heavy metal," notes Nikula. "But irony is very difficult to pull off, especially for a metal band."

Epiphany in Kansas City

Holopainen, who writes virtually all of the material, played piano as a child, moving on to saxophone. He also played clarinet for 10 years before graduating from music college. The epiphany of his musical life came unexpectedly. "When I was 15, I was an exchange student in the U.S. My host family took me to see Metallica and Guns N' Roses in Kansas City. From then on, I was hooked."
Turunen, meanwhile, has conflicting feelings about heavy metal and rock in general. Despite obvious affection for her colleagues in Nightwish, other Finnish bands and their fans, she insists, "I'm really no 'rock chick.'"

Rock and a Hard Place

She prefers Brahms, Schumann, and Rachmaninov, and singers such as Anne-Sofie von Otter and Renee Fleming. Turunen's decision to go to Germany was a clear statement that classical is more important than rock — regardless of Nightwish's runaway success.
That move suggests strength of character and artistic will. Yet is she ready to toss in this glamorous and potentially lucrative job for a much shakier future in the classics? Or could she balance both?
Sure, Montserrat Caballe and Luciano Pavarotti have dabbled in rock, but only after achieving mega-stardom as classical performers. For an up-and-coming singer, wearing two hats could be difficult.
Realising this, Turunen says, "If you get a job in an opera house, you just can't run here and there with a rock band and do your opera work at the same time."
Whether Nightwish's star will quit the band is a hotly debated topic by fans on the band's official website (there are also at least 30 fan sites). They also speculate on whether she will marry an Argentinean who appears briefly in the band's DVD film.
Turunen receives plenty of propositions, especially from Frenchmen. In Latin America (Nightwish was the first European band to play in Panama), that adulation was overwhelming when fans tried to tear strands of her hair and clothes, and jump on stage to grope her.
"Obviously Tarja's a sex symbol," says Nikula, "but she's not just a pin-up girl. Most metal bands with a female singer are more Gothic, or they go for a sort of vixen image. But Tarja's a real frontwoman who has maintained her integrity."
"She's really kept her feet on the ground," agrees Holopainen. "She's still the same girl-next-door as she was 15 years ago."
Holopainen shakes his head at French and German women who've appeared without warning at his home in remote Northern Karelia or the band's studio in Helsinki, and at fans who fly halfway round the world to attend a Nightwish gig. With devotion like that, the sky should be the limit for the band. Holopainen and Turunen want to try a film score, and quieter, less frenetic music would clearly suit both of them.
"Originally I wanted to do acoustic mood music," says Holopainen. "I'm a huge fan of New Age music and film music.
"I'm fascinated by musicals, though I've only seen one, The Phantom of the Opera, in London. I'd love to do some kind of big show like that, if only I had the time and money and creativity. With a real orchestra, choir and dancers, maybe at a castle... Hey, Savonlinna is only 80 kilometres from my house!" he adds.
For Turunen, a project pushing Nightwish's high-powered rock closer to opera could be just the ticket. And working in the 15th-century Olavinlinna castle would be a flashback to her days in the Opera Festival choir.
"That would be just a great experience! The environment in Savonlinna is so beautiful. I spent my greatest school years there, and did some musical theatre in Savonlinna when I was 18 or so."
If Savonlinna sows the seeds for a future generation of musical theatre, perhaps someone should approach these melodramatic rockers. The castle would be invaded by a youthful army of musical marauders. And a few of them might even book tickets for the next Wagner production.

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